Jacqueline Woodson Recommends "If Beale Street Could Talk"

"If Beale Street Could Talk" by James Baldwin
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The author of "Another Brooklyn" recommends James Baldwin's novel "If Beale Street Could Talk," an early inspiration to her that she says belongs on everyone's bookshelf. 

A book I'd like to recommend is "If Beale Street Could Talk" by James Baldwin, which is one of the early books I read about a teenage couple coming of age in Harlem in the 1960s.

James Baldwin is brilliant, and I've read everything he's written. But there was something about this story of Tish and Fonny, and they're trying to get out of their lives into a better place, and the way the world keeps them from doing this. It's at once heartbreaking, and beautiful, and brilliant.

Baldwin is writing beautifully and politically. He was not navel gazing. He was constantly thinking about himself in the bigger world. He was writing about race. He was writing about gender. He was writing about sexuality. And he was engrossed in the world becoming a better place, especially for people of color. He was calling people on their stuff at a time when people were really doing that.

Baldwin is unafraid in a way that I want to grow up to be — I want to be able to challenge lovingly. And I just have this image of him, cigarette in hand, having a conversation that was challenging, say, Dick Cavett on race.

His writing has been — to the bones — bare and brilliant and honest in a way that I always thought "If I could grow up and write half as well as he does then I'll be okay."

"If Beale Street Could Talk is a book that should be on everyone's bookshelf.